The Key to Christian Growth: The Spirit or Self-Discipline?

I'm always disgusted by my own desire for the things of this world at the expense of the things of God.  As I am reading a biography of Jonathan Edwards, one of the things that has really challenged me is Edward's relentless discipline in keeping his mind and heart focused on Spiritual things.  In fact, he was a man just like any other who experienced spiritual highs and spiritual lows.  In describing one week of Edward's journaled highs and lows, Biographer George Marsden wrote the following:

 In his diary he also kept track of his spiritual highs and lows. On Saturday, December 22, 1722, he noted that he was particularly "affected with the sense of the excellency of holiness" and that he "felt more exercise of love to Christ than usual." On Monday the twenty-fourth he had "higher thoughts than usual of the excellency of Jesus Christ and his kingdom." The next day he "was hindered by the headache all day." By Saturday sunset, the time when the Sabbath began, he was "dull and lifeless." The next Tuesday the dullness persisted, despite the fact that he could not think of any "negligence" of which he was guilty. On Wednesday he reflected how without the Spirit of God, no amount of resolution could help him. Nevertheless, he also believed the inverse. Without the firmest resolution, he would not find the Spirit. So when finding that the tally of his "weekly account" had fallen low, he "Resolved, that I have been negligent in two things: in not striving enough in duty; and in not forcing myself upon religious thoughts."

The thing that challenges me about Edwards is his undying pursuit to ignite his affections for Jesus, all the while knowing that they would not ignite apart from the spirit.  When seeking to ignite the fires of our own spirituality we would do well to follow Edwards in his example.  The temptation so many of us have is to dichotomize our sanctification.  We either overemphasize God's sole sanctifying effort and become lazy and undisciplined Christians or we overemphasize discipline and diligence and try to sanctify ourselves in our own strength.

I am finding in my own life that the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 2:12-13 is true when he writes, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act for his good pleasure."  These verses so often puzzled me.  Am I responsible to work out my own salvation or is it God who works through me?  The answer is yes.  We are sanctified by the power of the Spirit alone, but at the same time we are given the responsibility to discipline ourselves and pursue Christ with rigorous dedication and relentless pursuit. Even Edwards, a strict Calvinist, understood the balance between the two.

So what does this mean for us in our own Christian maturity?  It means that we must  be relentless in our pursuit of Christ.  We must resolve to seek Christ above all worldly things. All the while we must remember, just as Edwards had, that without the sanctifying power of the Spirit, even the firmest resolution will fall.  In my own experience, I have found that when I feel dry spiritually, I stop and pray until I sense the Spirit's power.  Discipline yourself to read the Scriptures when your flesh is weak, and it is through those efforts that the Spirit works to sanctify us and make us like Jesus Christ.  Just as God has spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart." (Jer 29:13)

Have you found this to be true in your own life? What disciplines has the spirit worked through to ignite your affections for Jesus?  Share your thoughts in the comments! I'd love to hear your thoughts!